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The Internet

Snail Mail Still Winning The Bandwidth War 259

LR_none writes "Today's New York Times has this short piece suggesting snail mail is the leading broadband technology, at least for video movies on demand. The article states that the 8 to 9 gigs of data on a DVD would take two weeks to download at 56kb, making Netflix' three-day distribution by mail seem speedy. (Since they can send three or more movies at once, Netflix compares favorably with DSL download speeds, too.) The author estimates Netflix alone distributes 1,500 terabytes a day, which is impressive considering the Internet carries 2,000TB a day (by estimates cited in the article). The 'immediate gratification' aspect of Internet consumerism has given a huge boost to companies like FedEx and UPS, but it's surprising to think of the post office as being the leading infrastructure provider for digital entertainment, in terms of market share and efficiency, for the forseeable future. (Disclaimer: I don't work for Netflix or the post office.)"
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Snail Mail Still Winning The Bandwidth War

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  • LAG! (Score:5, Funny)

    by Tyler Eaves ( 344284 ) on Monday September 23, 2002 @04:20PM (#4314122)
    Lag's a bitch though.

    Not millisecond.
    Not second.
    Not minute.
    Not hour.

    Lag measured in DAYS.

    Hell, even carrier pidgeon is probably faster ;)
  • by werdna ( 39029 ) on Monday September 23, 2002 @04:21PM (#4314131) Journal
    The MPAA claims that the internet has creates significant consequences and risks -- citing to supposedly a kazillion feature films being pirated daily. This simple piece of arithmetic is a useful hunk of rebuttal.
    • by Anonymous Coward
      A rebuttal of what, exactly?

      Is there some connection between the number of pirated movies available on the Internet and the number of non-pirated movies rented out by Netflix that's never been brought to light or something?
      • It rebuts (sp?) the claim that the internet poses unique and dangerous threat.

        With 7.4 million DVD rentals per day in the US and assuming 7GB per DVD average and ignoring the "features disks", the effective bandwidth of the DVD rental system is 52,800TB/day.

        This implies that if the daily bandwidth of the internet were entirely DVD movies, this would constitute 3.8% of the total DVD rental market. (ignoring the DVD sales market for the moment) 3.8% is not "commercially significant" and doesn't affect the "fair market value of the work". It sounds (if memory serves) less the than the cost of shoplifting or credit card fraud.

        According to Jack Valenti there will soon be 1M movie downloads per day worldwide . This would constitute (if true) 15% of the *US* rental market (which is apples to oranges worldwide vs. US -- so derate by the ratio of the worldwide market to the US market). It would also imply that (even assuming 700MB Divx of VHS quality) that 35% of the total internet traffic (700TB/day) is movie downloads.

        If anyone believes that I've got some swamp land and a bridge for sale.
      • internet is somehow a faucet of distribution with which material and physical distribution cannot meaningfully compete. It is arguably faster and more efficient to distribute DVD's using the mails -- thousands of terabytes per day can be distributed far more efficiently (and cost effectively) in this manner than upon the internet.

        The threat to distribution is not that it exists at all (you can find pirated DVD's on most any city street), but whether it is significant compared to the principal modes of distribution available to legitimate parties.
  • by TheOste ( 413117 ) on Monday September 23, 2002 @04:21PM (#4314133) Homepage
    What's the fastest way to move 1GB of data nightly from LA to San Fran?

    • Bah! I download 1G in about two hours on a bad night, 90 minutes on a good day. Now if we up the ante a little, say 'move 1TB of data' and FedEx will eat my cable connection for lunch.
      • Never underestimate the bandwidth of cargo plane filled with ait-3 tapes. :-)
        • It's true, though. I once worked at a company
          where it was faster to drive down to the colocation site to dump the latest DB than
          transfer it over the wire. Before you say
          "duh", consider that the drive was only about
          30-40 mins, the database was not that huge,
          and the company was just cheap and had only
          a dialup connection shared among ~8 users.
    • by maswan ( 106561 )
      So Fed-Ex is shipping in less than 10 seconds these days? A 1 Gbit link is just a matter of some money. Any big ISP should be able to sell you that and actually deliver as long as both endpoints are on the same, bigish, ISP.

      If we were talking a factor 1000 more than 1GB, the Fed-Ex solution might have some validity. But then you have to take into account high-bandwidth tape drives in parallell and so on. My guess that you would be very hardpressed to find a solution that is faster than the internet for getting data from one file system in one city to another file system in another city. /Mattias Wadenstein
  • by keep_it_simple_stupi ( 562690 ) on Monday September 23, 2002 @04:22PM (#4314141) Homepage
    that I could send a couch via FedEx easier than I could over the internet? These people are just plain nuts.

    Oh wait...
  • Whew! (Score:3, Funny)

    by Tsali ( 594389 ) on Monday September 23, 2002 @04:22PM (#4314147)
    Nothing like snail mail to remedy my need for DVD's via my 28K line.

    Of course, if you're using a 28K line, you're probably not instantly gratified that often anyways. :-)

  • by RocketJeff ( 46275 ) on Monday September 23, 2002 @04:22PM (#4314153) Homepage
    "Never underestimate the bandwidth of a station wagon full of tapes" - SysAdmin humor []
  • never underestimate the baud rate of a station wagon filled with backup tapes...

    • Re:an old expression (Score:2, Informative)

      by Anonymous Coward
      Actually the baud rate of a station wagon filled with backup tapes is horrible. The bandwidth however, is astounding.
  • by Kenja ( 541830 ) on Monday September 23, 2002 @04:22PM (#4314156)
    Tried playing Quake by snail mail. Took forever before the letter saying I'd been fraged 10^5 times for just standing there to arive.
  • Streaming? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by conner_bw ( 120497 ) on Monday September 23, 2002 @04:23PM (#4314163) Journal
    Although impressive statistically... This assumes you do not watch the movie until it is downloaded.

    What about streaming video? Cached content on local streaming servers for local intranets?

    You can't stream the mail.

    • Yes but if it takes that long to download it watching it streaming would have impossible delays for buffering, completely pointless.
    • by Waffle Iron ( 339739 ) on Monday September 23, 2002 @04:52PM (#4314419)
      You can't stream the mail.

      Streaming snail mail doesn't work for DVDs, but you can get it to work for VHS.

      The trick is to pull one end of the tape out of the cartridge, then glue it to a post card. Drop the postcard in the mail and leave the rest of the tape next to the mailbox.

      Now, as the head end of the tape makes its way through the postal system, it automatically despools the rest of the tape which streams along behind it.

      As soon as the head end of the tape arrives, the customer inserts it into in an empty cartridge and starts to play it . As the VCR plays, it sucks the remainder of the tape out of the postal system at the appropriate speed.

    • You can't stream the mail

      Yes you can. Think about it.

    • Arent periodicals/magazines "streaming" information to you? A chunk of bytes arrives today .. the next chunk a week later ... high latency, but still streaming. :)
    • You can only stream if you can cache enough of the content first before starting the movie. DVD's have a huge throughput that your average 512kbs connection would not handle. Just try and download a linux iso and repeat 10 times. Thats how long its gonna take to get your movie down.

      Oh and if you live in Australia then they are gonna charge you for going over your bandwidth limit. So you have 3 choices. Netflix and 3 day lag, Download and possible data charges, or forsake quality and and download divx versions of the movies. /b
    • Re:Bandwith (Score:2, Insightful)

      I met a gentleman who worked at a large brokerage
      house on Wall street, and it was in fact cheaper
      and faster to send data tapes from the west coast
      office every day via FedEx than to do it by wire.
      This conversation took place several years ago
      and the relative costs may have changed by now,
      but the way he put it was:

      "Never underestimate the bandwidth of a fully
      loaded 747 flying cross-country"

  • Internet2, then? Does Fed-Ex or UPS Overnights equal it? How many DVDs would you need to ship to equal optimal performance on Abilene?

    Kinda sad I'm thinking about this...
  • by NineNine ( 235196 ) on Monday September 23, 2002 @04:25PM (#4314196)
    if you live on the East Coast, forget about it. Mail takes 5 business days, coming and going, making Netflix not all that cheap. If you get the basic service (3 movies at a time), if you watch the movies THE DAY you get them and send them back immediately, you still can't realistically get more than say, 6 movies a month. If Netflix opened a warehouse on the East Coast, shit, I'd get the best damn service they've got. If not for that huge mail lag for us on the East Coast, their service is fucking fantastic.
  • ...snail mail is much more susceptible to man-in-the-middle attacks.
    • Step 1: run your envelope through an industrial shreader.

      Step 2: append 10 MAC shreads at the end of mail.

      Step 3: permutate shread x with shread perm(x) where perm(x) is the chosen encryption algorithm.

      Step 4: glue together

      Step 5: shread, unencrypt, reglue.

  • Bandwidth vs. Latency is always a big tradeoff in CS technologies. Sure you can ship larger packets (err... packages) via snail mail, but latency is still a big issue. An equivalent to a ping in mail might take two weeks using letters.

    Cost is also an issue, next-day mail is REALLY expensive... shooting bits across the net is really cheap, and in comparison almost free.
    • "and in comparison almost free."

      not if you take the infrastructure into account.
      How much money does a company pay for there IT infrastructer? lots.
    • An equivalent to a ping in mail might take two weeks using letters.

      Which just goes to show that "synergy" isn't just a dot-com buzzword.

      Netflix and I handle all of the "pinging" (i.e., the administrative tasks such as creating an account, placing an order, and tracking progress) via the web & email--almost instantaneously.

      Then we handle the high-volume data transfers via USPS, which works out pretty nicely. Sure, there's about 5 days of latency (from the time I return a DVD to the time the next one arrives), but the way it works out I generally have one or more new movies waiting for me whenever my schedule allows me the time to watch one.

    • Cost is also an issue, next-day mail is REALLY expensive... shooting bits across the net is really cheap, and in comparison almost free.

      Where do you live? Next day mail costs me £0.26 (~$0.35). On the other hand, if I had a dialup modem I'd be paying double that per hour to "shoot bits across the net". Luckily I have DSL, but that's not cheap either.
  • Snail Mail... (Score:3, Insightful)

    by isa-kuruption ( 317695 ) <> on Monday September 23, 2002 @04:27PM (#4314212) Homepage
    High throughput... high latency :(

  • I still receive way more daily spam (in terms of data quantity) by snail-mail than by email. That alone is way more significative than the mythic "truckload of tapes".
    • by GigsVT ( 208848 )
      Write the DMA [] (see near the bottom of the page.) I did it and my junk mail was reduced, but not eliminated. I get a lot less national stuff though, most of what is left is local offers.
  • Well Duh. of course you can ship huge amount of information faster by Mail then via Digital resorces. If you want I can transfer you 90 TerraBytes of information in one day via FexEx. Or lets say every molicule in a piece of paper is considered information there you have it I have sent more data. Mailing information is a 3d way of shiping and storage and in our 3d perceved world it is the best way to move data compared to the 1d Internet. Of course if you are shipping small amounts of information then Internet will win.
  • The USPS is a-okay (Score:5, Interesting)

    by doc_traig ( 453913 ) on Monday September 23, 2002 @04:30PM (#4314244) Homepage Journal

    If I need it there Sometime Later This Week, I have no problem using the USPS for anything. They've never lost a piece of mail I was waiting for or sent out, and I have done a lot of business with patient buyers on eBay that were happy with the ship times and the handling with USPS. In fact, recently I have read about more issues with sending delicate equipment UPS/FedEx than with USPS Priority, for example.

    Broadband just isn't a reality/necessity for enough people yet, and the size of applications and media in digital format is growing and is already too great for the Average Joe who has an affinity the Internet but doesn't know how to download 4 GB worth of video successfully (or patiently, for that matter).

    - DDT

  • Yeah, it's hard to beat the bandwidth of a truckload of CD's or DVD's doing 70mph down the interstate... ...but the latency...
    • Yeah, it's hard to beat the bandwidth of a truckload of CD's or DVD's doing 70mph down the interstate... ...but the latency...

      Yeah, Quake III would be a very interesting game under those circumstances. :-)
  • by Bryce ( 1842 ) on Monday September 23, 2002 @04:32PM (#4314262) Homepage
    NetFlix alone helped justify the cost of
    getting an HDTV for me - I find I spend
    more hours per week watching Netflix-supplied content than anything else, and most DVD's are in widescreen

    It works out to be cheaper than Blockbuster if you like watching lots of
    movies, and is more flexible than the
    pay channels.

    I wish they had more content though, as
    you can pretty quickly run through all the
    movies you haven't seen already. ;-)

  • but what about (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Polo ( 30659 ) on Monday September 23, 2002 @04:35PM (#4314276) Homepage
    What about Satellite?

    I have a 40gb PVR and it's filled all the time.
  • Disclaimer (Score:4, Funny)

    by ChaosDiscordSimple ( 41155 ) on Monday September 23, 2002 @04:38PM (#4314292) Homepage
    (Disclaimer: I don't work for Netflix or the post office.)
    Thanks for letting us know. I was afraid there might be some bias. (Disclaimer: I don't work for Slashdot, the Prince of Darkness, or Illuminati.)
  • The ultimate MOD? (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Java Pimp ( 98454 ) <java_pimp@yah o o .com> on Monday September 23, 2002 @04:40PM (#4314309) Homepage
    From a +3 comment [] this morning to the front page! Nice! :-)
  • by Quixadhal ( 45024 ) on Monday September 23, 2002 @04:49PM (#4314402) Homepage Journal
    ...if you didn't have to share bandwidth with all those spammers.
    • "...if you didn't have to share bandwidth with all those spammers."

      The sad thing is, in the USPS the "spammers" probably make things faster. They actually pay for the resources they use (postage) and justify (and pay for) improvements in sorting equipment and techniques. I've seen it argued somewhere that it's the bulk mailers that are keeping the price of first class postage so low and not the other way around.

      Imagine what would happen if every spammer bought a new Fast Ethernet switch for the SMTP server they highjack.
  • A networks instructor once told me

    "Never underestimate the bandwidth of an 18-wheeler full of CDs."

  • "Broadcast quality" video requires about 5Mb. A cable system that carries 70 channels should therefore have at least 300Mb/s raw bandwidth. That's enough to download a 9GB movie in four minutes. One third of that would be enough to download the top 120 movies once a day. 1/36 of that would be enough to download 8 hours of network programming for each of five networks, for on-demand viewing, still leaving more than half the total bandwidth unused.There's lots of bandwidth out there, but people are too busy worrying about intellectual property rights to take advantage of it. Until we have an approach that separates compensation to artists and producers from distribution, our distribution system will remain wildly irrational.
    • You're doing the math wrong. Assuming broadcast quality video needs 5MB, a 70 channel cable system needs....5MB. A 400-channel cable system needs 5MB. Ever notice how you're never watching more than one channel at once? Maybe a little more to download guide data. But your cable line isn't 300MB.

  • by tunabomber ( 259585 ) on Monday September 23, 2002 @05:02PM (#4314490) Homepage
    This reminded me of the time I read Penises have higher bandwidth than cable modems. []
  • bits in the protocol (Score:2, Interesting)

    by dan501 ( 223225 )
    It's no wonder the bandwidth and latency of shipping DVDs is higher than the internet.

    It's simpler to make a lower bits per packet protocol (like rs232 or SSA) than a higher bits per packet (uwSCSI).

    you just make up for lower frequency with bigger packets.

    the internet is an 8 data bit protocol compared to the (4.7GB * 8) data bit protocol of mailing DVDs.

  • Database guru Jim Gray
    discusses [] what turned out to be the most reasonable solution to sending terabytes of data (the Sloan Digital Sky Survey) in a convenient form across the globe: sending complete servers with terabyte disk subsystems.
  • like, it would be great...

  • 1,500TB? Doubt it. (Score:2, Informative)

    by mriker ( 571666 )
    Maybe Netflix distributes 1,500TB a day of movies, but that's using DVD's MPEG-2 compression. Encode 'em with DivX and you're gonna slash that figure by what... 80-90%?
    • by GMontag451 ( 230904 ) on Monday September 23, 2002 @06:36PM (#4315341) Homepage
      Maybe Netflix distributes 1,500TB a day of movies, but that's using DVD's MPEG-2 compression. Encode 'em with DivX and you're gonna slash that figure by what... 80-90%?

      And you will suffer the loss of quality and the inability to play them on a real TV that goes along with it, no thanks. DivX sucks.

      • the inability to play them on a real TV

        I had a video card with TV-out several years ago, and in fact most cards seem to come with it standard now.

        And if you don't like DivX's artifacts (what few there are now, on a properly encoded movie playing in any decent system), you can always try SVCD. A full movie often fits on 2 CDs, and damned if I can tell the difference from DVD. Added bonus, my DVD player plays em, so I guess that's what you meant by a 'real TV'.

        • A full movie often fits on 2 CDs, and damned if I can tell the difference from DVD.

          I'm willing to bet you're the kind of guy who likes to distribute mp3's in 112kbps 'cause you can't hear the difference on your $2 headphones. If you can't tell the difference between a SVCD and a DVD you should either need to have your eyes examined or get rid of the old ass b&w TV. The difference in resolution is significant enough as it is to give a vast improovement... not to mention higher bitrate and more colors... That's like claiming to not be able to see the difference between a 1080i HDTV image and a standard NTSC signal.
          • Just becuase you are aware of the difference doesn't mean everyone is. And enlightening them to a better available quality isn't necessarily a good thing if they are happy with what they have.

            I used to enjoy a nearby second run movie theatre much more, before my theatre-employed friends pointed out subtle rips in the screen and errors in the sound. Now I see and hear them every time, and I have lost something because of it.

  • I joined Netflix [], one of the first of the DVD rental mailer companies, a long time ago and like it a lot. I was interested, then, to read a rough calculation []that, in terms of 190,000 MPEG-2 format DVDs, Netflix's daily bandwidth totals 1.5 TB. This is a sizable fraction of the current total estimated Internet daily bandwidth: somewhere between 2-4 TB. Of course, Peter Wayner's [] calculations do not allow for the online delivery of movies in more compression-efficient formats, such as the MPEG-4-derived DIVX, where a typical 4-7 GB DVD can be reduced to around 700 MB with minimal quality loss.

    I guess the CD manufacturers also thought they were safe, when a typical CD occupied 700MB of data in an era of mainly dialup connections. Then along came MP3 with its one-tenth compression ratio and so much for that idea. Netflix's current success is a temporary artifact of our restricted bandwidth and lack of suitable MPEG-4 hardware players.

    And I found out from some surfing that some Netflix competitors, such as CafeDVD [], QwikFlicks [], and DVD Avenue [], are cheaper and offer porn, something Netflix avoids.
  • Bandwidth per day (Score:3, Insightful)

    by freakinPsycho ( 23459 ) <david@inducedrea[ ] ['lit' in gap]> on Monday September 23, 2002 @07:04PM (#4315555) Homepage
    I'm suprised no one has looked at the 2000 terrabytes/day number.

    I'm sorry, that seems just a bit low. 1 site pushing 1 Gb/s is 84 Terrabytes/day. That means only 23 sites have to use that much bandwitch for that 2000 number to be hit. As I know of at least one site that pushes (not counting incoming) 10 Gb/s, that number is just a little unreasonable.

    I'd really like to know where people get these kinds of numbers. I have seen silly numbers like this one and the 7 billion pieces of e-mail per day numbers and have to wonder where they come from. Acording to some numbers I saw released at one point, Hotmail alone receives over 1 billion e-mail per day.

    I really have to wonder if someone is just making this stuff up or if they are looking at a very small set of data and extrapolating from there. In either case, I think better methods need to be used to create these kinds of numbers.
    • I'm suprised no one has looked at the 2000 terrabytes/day number. I'm sorry, that seems just a bit low.

      It is low. In fact, it's doesn't even pass any common sense test. As you figured out, that only equates to around 23Gbps of bandwidth. I can guarantee the Internet is pushing a lot more data than that. I help manage maybe 400-500 Mbps of end-user bandwidth (3x OC-3's and 1x OC-12), and I assure you that the college kids in a single mid-sized state do not represent 2% of the Internet.
  • by kfg ( 145172 ) on Monday September 23, 2002 @07:04PM (#4315556)
    Now, now, now, now, now, and I'm going to hold my breath until I get it!


    In the words of Scotty, " I canna change the laws of physics Cap'n."

    Honestly people, what sort of harm are you actually going to come to by having to wait to watch a movie until you receive it?

    Hey, here's what I do. I walk to my library ( 5 minutes each way) and take out three videos. They already have more in stock than I can watch in what remains of my lifetime and the collection grows daily. If I do this early in the morning I can watch all three, return them, and take out three more, watch them and then repeat that one more time, making the last return the next morning when I return for three more to start my day. Repeat until death.

    Pretty good "bandwith," and ecologically friendly too.

  • Sorry, I'm sure someone has said it already, but I'm feeling a little reactionary.
  • They used to brag about delivering Christmas packages, I wonder if they will be as diligent about Christmas packets ;-)

If graphics hackers are so smart, why can't they get the bugs out of fresh paint?